Ducks @ Sabres MORNING THOUGHTS: Ready to Be Home

More often than not, it’s easy to see why the Buffalo Sabres lose. Their efforts are typically subpar and so is their talent level.

But nights like Tuesday leave the team searching deeper. They matched the Anaheim Ducks with 33 shots. They had a decided edge in five-on-five puck possession, spending 11:54 in the Ducks’ end compared with eight minutes of offensive-zone time for Anaheim.

PREVIEW: Ducks look to bounce back in Buffalo

The problem is the Sabres don’t score during that five-on-five time. Buffalo’s goals in the 4-3 overtime loss came short-handed, on the power play and at six-on-five with the goaltender pulled.

It’s nothing new. Buffalo ranks last in five-on-five goals with 71. They are eight behind 30th-place Arizona and 53 behind co-No. 1 Toronto and the New York Islanders, who visit KeyBank Center on Thursday.

Corey Perry, Rickard Rakell and Ondrej Kase also scored for the Ducks, who ended an 0-2-1 slide. Anaheim (26-19-10) kept pace in the Western Conference, where the Ducks began the day among five teams separated by one point in competing for the final playoff spot.

Henrique’s OT goal lifts Ducks to 4-3 win over Sabres

The lack of even-strength production has been particularly pronounced lately. In the last nine games, Buffalo has scored just six of its 21 goals at five-on-five. They’ve scored 10 times on the power play, three times short-handed, once during three-on-three overtime and once with the goalie pulled.

“Obviously, it’s an issue,” center Ryan O’Reilly said Wednesday. “We have to create more five-on-five and find a way to get these chances.”

All year, coach Phil Housley has been preaching shot mentality and net-front presence. He brought up the game against the Ducks as his ideal illustration.

Ryan Miller – Sure, he didn’t have his best game of the season, by any stretch. He did, however, recover nicely from allowing a really bad first goal to get back into the game and ultimately make 33 saves en route to the victory. It may not have been a fantastic goaltending performance like Anaheim fans are used to, but it got the job done, and that’s all that matters to me.

“You look at the Anaheim goals, they had people or players going to the net,” Housley said. “That’s what we need to do more of. I preach that all the time. First of all, we’ve got to have a shot mentality, then we’ve got to have net-front presence and more guys going there to pay a price to score.”

He pointed to two of Buffalo’s goals as proof. Zemgus Girgensons opened the game by scoring short-handed from below the goal line.

“I got a lot on it. Tough way to go. I got to find a way to put that into the net,” said Reinhart. He snapped at another reporter who approached him after the initial scrum, saying he didn’t want to go over the play again. “Whoever’s going to get that bounce. It’s one of those games that whoever gets that bounce. We passed way too many opportunities to get the pucks on net,” said Coach Phil Housley, dismissing any notion that Reinhart’s whiff was that cost the opportunity to win the game. “If you asked him, he’d want to have that one back,” said Housley about that play.

“He shoots a puck from a bad angle, but he goes to the net and he finishes it off,” Housley said.

The tying goal from O’Reilly with 14.5 seconds left came with Evander Kane so close to Ducks goalie Ryan Miller that his skate was in the blue paint.

Anaheim’s winning lineup in 3-on-3 overtime included Brandon Montour, Kase, and Adam Henrique. Henrique delivered the game-winning goal for the Ducks after a minute and a half into the extra period. It should be noted that Anaheim’s aggressiveness was felt throughout the game. Offensively, the team collectively outshot the Sabres taking 34 shots on goal, compared to Buffalo’s 33. The Ducks’ next game is this Friday, Feb. 9th against the Edmonton Oilers back home at Honda Center.

“You have Evander Kane right in front of Miller,” Housley said. “You have a layer with Sam Reinhart, and that puck almost goes to the middle of the net. It’s just having that mentality of getting there. Our D have to find ways to get the puck there to reward our forwards as well.”

The road trip is finally over for the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim walked out of KeyBank Center in Buffalo victorious 4-3 after an overtime thriller over the Buffalo Sabres. The team concludes their East Coast road trip after going 2-3-0, making their overall record now 26-19-10 and 62 points. With the win, Anaheim’s Ryan Miller, who started in the net, improves his season record to 7-4 in his 19th appearance.

As this group of players showed under Dan Bylsma, they know how to tune out a coach. But when Housley has video proof with his words, it should show the Sabres what they need to do.

“A lot of teams are fighting for playoff spots, and you have to fight for every inch out there,” center Jacob Josefson said. “You have to play on the inside to make sure you get pucks on the net and have some guys in front of their goal. That’s usually how you score goals this time of year.”

Added O’Reilly: “It starts with playing harder and getting to the net front. We did a good job getting the puck in the zone and had some good zone time. I think we have to put a little more emphasis on playing heavier in front and looking for those greasy goals. From that, that’s when we get those lucky bounces.”

On the bright side, the Sabres’ special teams are rocking. The penalty killers have scored in three of the last five games, and their seven short-handed goals rank tied for third in the NHL. The power play is a scorching 12 for 34 (35.3 percent) in the last 12 games.

Should the Anaheim Ducks be considered a top three team in their division? In our second weekly Anaheim Ducks roundtable, we had LA Sports Hub’s NHL contributors give their take:

“We’re confident,” O’Reilly said. “We go out there and we know we’re going to score. That’s different. I think at the beginning of the year we were a little hesitant. We weren’t very comfortable.

“We’ve kind of found some of that now, and that helps a lot. Every time we go out there, we feel we can impact the game. That’s where we want to be.”

They just can’t get there at five-on-five. It resulted in another frustrating loss, the fourth in a row, all at home.

Larsson was one of 12 players to take the ice for the short optional workout. He has completed his two-game suspension and is eligible to return Thursday when Buffalo hosts the New York Islanders to complete a five-game home stand.

“It’s a little frustrating,” defenseman Justin Falk said. “Obviously, we want to have that consistent effort and emotion in our game. We had that for the most part and battled back. We didn’t get the results we wanted. A couple bad breaks. There wasn’t really a lot of pretty goals.

Throngs in Phillies gear packed downtown sidewalks, making them almost impassable. Fans climbed trees, hung out of windows, watched from balconies, carried stepladders and stood on roofs to get a better view. The Phillies then greeted tens of thousands of fans who had watched the parade on big screens at the city’s baseball and football stadiums. The team first stopped at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles play.

“One of those games where you’ve just got to find a way to grind it out, and they seemed to get the bounce there at the end.”

The Eagles are perhaps the city’s greatest passion, and the outpouring of support came in more forms than simply pouring one out. Grown men cried and hugged their fathers. Families bundled up and hit the streets to bang pots and pans and share the championship together. Some fans carried signs with names of loved ones no longer here in tribute for those who never got to cherish a Super Bowl title before death.

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Sabres have suffered through plenty of bad breaks and bad luck through a 14-29-10 season, and Tuesday’s loss was a prime example of both. The Sabres gave up three goals in regulation — one of which was an own-goal from Ryan O’Reilly whose clearing attempt richocheted in off Robin Lehner’s stick, and one that was a rebound off of Lehner’s leg.

"You get caught thinking a bit more, it seems like the bad bounces happen," says O’Reilly. "I don’t know why it is. You tighten up. I think that explains us at home right now."

The Sabres have just six home wins, and a 6-15-4 record at home (including a "home" game for the Winter Classic).

"I think if we’re working hard and playing the right way, and doing the right things, you’ll eventually get your bounces," says Jordan Nolan, who saw plenty of good luck while winning two Stanley Cups with the Kings. "Sometimes, it seems like, for a few games, you won’t get your bounces. Usually the hockey gods work out a little bit. But if you’re not playing the right way, it’s not going to work out for you."

Head Coach Phil Housley had a simple explanation for the Sabres misfortune; the Ducks created their own luck by playing aggressively and keeping the puck in the Buffalo zone.

"You look at the Anaheim goals, they had players going to the net," he says. "That’s what we need to do more of. I preach that all the time. First off, we need to have a shot mentality. We gotta have net-front presence."

The Ducks loss was another reminder of the Sabres awful play in overtime. The Blue and Gold have lost 10 of 13 games that were tied after regulation. Nolan says there’s less margin of error because of the 3-on-3 aspect of overtime.

"If you miss your chance, chances are the other team’s coming back with a 2-on-1," he says. "That’s the way it is. When a team has full possession, you have full possession, and someone gives you half a foot to work with, there’s a lot of skilled players in this league and they’re going to take advantage of that."

The Sabres need a win against the Islanders Thursday to avoid going 0-5 during their five-game homestand.


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